Postcards from Tradocia

Stand Alone Complex

ALC is over, and in its aftermath I’m left with a palette of feelings that is totally unexpected. It’s a sort of screwed up mix that manifests as irritability, misanthropy, depression, and a general alienation from civilian life. In other words, I’m experiencing the feelings after this stupid NCO school that I was supposed to feel after going to Iraq.

Already I’m forgetting details about my stay at Fort Gordon; where I initially talked in furious specifics about my experiences, I now talk in resigned generalities. My mind is closing off that time like scar tissue over a wound, which is a new experience for me. Perhaps it’s a testament to my easy life, or my resilience, or something else, but I’ve never had an experience that I wanted so desperately to forget. Three months of almost continual simmering anger (and occasional explosive rage), combined with the daily disrespect and pointless belittling by the cadre, combined in my psyche into something toxic that needs to be purged.

It seems to me that the formula for post-event trauma takes the form of the following equation:

(Trauma intensity x Time of exposure x Environmental factors) / (Support network x Sense of purpose)

Therefore, if one would try to quantify Iraq and compare it to ALC (using a notional 10 point scale for all factors)…

Iraq: (3 x 10 x 5) / (10 x 5) = 10

ALC: (5 x 5 x 2) / (2 x 1) = 25

Therefore, since math doesn’t lie, ALC was 2.5 times more traumatic than Iraq.

The most difficult part was the pointlessness of it all. What did I learn? “Do as I say, not as I do” as a primary tenet of leadership? Cronyism is a great way to run an organization? One morning, about two-thirds of the way through, when I was standing in the dark at 5:30 in the cold Georgia morning, I thought, “why am I doing this?” Not in the specific sense of “why am I caterwauling the godawful Signal Corps March for the third fucking time in a row with all these other idiots,” but rather a general sense of, “why am I in the Army? What is this doing for me? What is this doing to me?” I thought, then, just for a minute, “I’m done.” My term of service expires this August. I could just wrap it up, call it a good eight years, and walk away. That’s what the Regimental NCO Academy instilled in me: a desire to quit. Of course, the feeling passed quickly – I remembered that Fort Gordon isn’t the real world, or even the real Army, and that where I come from people speak English and the organizational faults are mostly well-meaning and not malevolent.

I guess I did learn one key lesson from the whole thing: that, as an NCO, I can never allow myself to become like those that I saw at that place. I take my role as an NCO seriously, and I know now what it looks like when the chain of NCOs breaks down completely, and so I’ll do everything I can to prevent that from happening.


  1. Jake

    Welcome back Sergeant!!

  2. jumi

    Dude. I am so happy that you’re back.

    It seems like your training in California a while back didn’t suck anywhere near so much. If you were say to take a few more weeks off to stew, and then sit down to write up reasoned critique of what went wrong during ALC and contrast it with what went right before, do you think that there is anyone in your chain of command who would listen?

  3. Delobius

    Well, we had to do anonymous critiques before leaving and we all wrote long, bitter treatises about the various failings of the place. Supposedly, those critiques go up to TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command), but who knows if they take anything to heart. Certainly, I wasn’t the first person to be incredibly pissed by what happened, so it’s likely the critiques fall on deaf ears.

    I did mention my experiences to the state Command Sergeant Major when I got back, and as soon as I mentioned that I had just gotten back from ALC, he said, “it was a huge waste of time, wasn’t it?” I agreed and mentioned some of the crap we did, and his reply was, “that’s active duty stuff. Why do you think they’re so fucked up?” So at least at his level, there’s some awareness that the NCO education system is broken, but we in the Guard are so far from influencing TRADOC (the org chart is large and complicated), that it almost doesn’t matter. Though we do run some of our own schools, and those are almost always better…

    Like Sacramento, which was run by the Army Reserve and was the way a Signal Corps school should be run: all technical, no BS, and leave them troops alone.

  4. jumi

    Well, at least you’ve got all of that “How To Deal With PTSD” training under your belt, so you can begin the slow process of healing.

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